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Those Were the Days of Giants! Fasting and Abstinence in Advent and Lent
Archdiocese of Washington ^ | December 14, 2011 | Msgr. Charles Pope

Posted on 12/14/2011 2:09:09 PM PST by Salvation

Those Were the Days of Giants! A Brief Reflection on the Fasting and Abstinence that were once common in Advent and Lent

By: Msgr. Charles Pope

I was explaining to a new Catholic recently that the color purple (violet) used in advent is akin to its use in Lent, in that both are considered penitential seasons. Hence we are to give special attention to our sins and our need for salvation. Traditionally we would also take part in penitential practices of fasting and abstinence.

Of course, in recent decades Advent has almost wholly lost any real penitential practices. There is no fasting or abstinence  required. Confession is encouraged and the readings still retain a kind of  focus on repentance.

But long gone are the days of a forty day fast beginning on Nov 12. The observances were every bit as strict as Lent. St. Martin’s Feast Day was a day of carnival (which means literally “farewell to meat” (carnis + vale)). In those days the rose vestments of Gaudete were really something to rejoice about, since the fast was relaxed for a day. Then back into the fast until Christmas. Lent too began with Mardi Gras (fat Tuesday), as the last of the fat was used used up and the fast was enjoined beginning the next day.

And the fast and abstinence were far more than the tokenary observances we have today. In most places, all animal products were strictly forbidden during Advent and Lent. There were many regional differences about the rest of the details.  While most areas permitted fish, others permitted fish and fowl.  Some prohibited fruit and eggs, and some places like monasteries ate little more than bread.  In some places, on Fridays of Lent and Advent, believers abstained from food for an entire day; others took only one meal. In most places, however, the practice was to abstain from eating until the evening, when a small meal without vegetables or alcohol was eaten.

Yes, those were the day of the Giants! When fasting and abstinence were real things.

Our little token fast on only two days really isn’t much of a fast: two small meals + one regular meal; is that really a fast at all?  And we abstain from meat only on the Fridays of Lent, instead of all forty days.

What is most remarkable to me is that such fasts of old were undertaken by men, women and children who had a lot less to eat than we do. Not only was there less food, but is was far more seasonal and its supply less predictable. Further, famines and food shortages were more a fact of life than today. Yet despite all this they were able to fast, and twice a year at that, for eighty days total. There were also ember days sporadically through the year when a day long fast was enjoined.

Frankly I doubt we moderns could pull off the fast of the ancients, and even the elders of more recent centuries. Can you imagine the belly aching (pun intended) if the Church called us to follow the strict norms of even 200 years ago? We would hear that such demands were unrealistic, even unhealthy.

Perhaps it is a good illustration of how our abundance enslaves us. The more we get the more we want. And the more we want the more we think we can’t live without. To some degree or another we are so easily owned by what we claim to own, we are enslaved by our abundance and we experience little freedom to go without.

I look back to the Catholics of 100 years and before and think of them like giants compared to us. They had so little compared to me, but they seem to have been so much freer. They could fast. Though poor, they built grand Churches and had large families. They crowded into homes and lived and worked in conditions few of us would be able to tolerate today. And sacrifice seemed more “normal” to them. I have not read of any huge outcries that the mean nasty Church imposed fasting and abstinence in Advent and Lent. Nor have I read of outcries of the fasting from midnight before receiving Communion. Somehow they accepted these sacrifices and were largely able to undertake them. They had a freedom that I think many of us lack.

And then too, imagine the joy when, for a moment the fast lifted in these times: Immaculate Conception, Gaudete, Annunciation, St. Joseph’s Feast day, Laetare Sunday. Imagine the joy. For us its just a pink candle and a pondering, “Rejoice? Over what?” For them these were actual and literal “feast days.”

I admit, I am a man of my time and I find the fasting and abstinence described above nearly “impossible.” I am thinking about going meatless for all forty days, this coming Lent and am currently discerning if that is what the Lord intends for me. But something makes me look back to the Giants of old, who, having far less than I, did such things as a matter of course.

There were giants in those days!



TOPICS: Apologetics; Catholic; History; Theology
KEYWORDS: abstinence; advent; catholic; fasting; fastingandabstinence; history; lent; msgrcharlespope
Truncated title -- Actual Title

Those Were the Days of Giants! A Brief Reflection on the Fasting and Abstinence that were once common in Advent and Lent

1 posted on 12/14/2011 2:09:20 PM PST by Salvation
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To: Salvation

Could we do it? Abstain from meat on all Fridays (Acutually, it never changed.) or FAST from three full meals and only eat two with no eating in between meals?

Could we do it?


2 posted on 12/14/2011 2:11:56 PM PST by Salvation ("With God all things are possible." Matthew 19:26)
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To: Salvation
I kinda remember the night before my 1st Holy Communion. Rule seemed to be (in out house only ? or church rule ? ) nothing by mouth after midnight - not even water.

I remember being escorted to the bathroom, to make sure I didn't sneak anything to eat or drink.
Flippin Irish\Catholics....It seemed all we EVER did was fast and abstain.
3 posted on 12/14/2011 2:18:18 PM PST by stylin19a (obama - "FREDO" smart)
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To: Salvation

When I read articles like this I find myself thinking that I’d have a pretty tough time adjusting to life 100 or 1000 years ago but, by the same token, if you took the average person from those ages and gave them a modern job in a modern city, they’d have a nervous breakdown within a few days.

Mankind, in ages past, was able to obtain a great deal of strength from the slower pace of their existence.


4 posted on 12/14/2011 2:27:21 PM PST by Psycho_Bunny ("Fair share" are the last two words I hear before I stop taking someone seriously.)
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To: stylin19a

God bless your parents. Same with me.


5 posted on 12/14/2011 2:28:07 PM PST by Salvation ("With God all things are possible." Matthew 19:26)
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To: nickcarraway; NYer; ELS; Pyro7480; livius; ArrogantBustard; Catholicguy; RobbyS; marshmallow; ...

A fasting and abstinence ping.

Could we do it?


6 posted on 12/14/2011 2:30:40 PM PST by Salvation ("With God all things are possible." Matthew 19:26)
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To: Psycho_Bunny

Many would be glad to slow down their pace of life during Advent. Worth trying? That’s your decision.


7 posted on 12/14/2011 2:33:33 PM PST by Salvation ("With God all things are possible." Matthew 19:26)
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To: Salvation

Doing penence during Lent, no problem with that, it is the real season of penence, but Advent? I view Advent with great joy, we are getting ready for the coming of Jesus in the Divine Infancy. That is why I question the fasting part during Advent.

That is why the better color for Advent for the candels is dark blue, as a reminder of the longest and darkest days of the year.


8 posted on 12/14/2011 2:34:03 PM PST by Biggirl ("Jesus talked to us as individuals"-Jim Vicevich/Thanks JimV!)
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To: Salvation

Could we do it? Abstain from meat on all Fridays (Acutually, it never changed.) or FAST from three full meals and only eat two with no eating in between meals?

Could we do it?
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

I never eat more than two meals a day.


9 posted on 12/14/2011 2:39:19 PM PST by mamelukesabre (.)
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To: Biggirl

Blue isn’t a liturgical color. Sorry.


10 posted on 12/14/2011 2:39:49 PM PST by Salvation ("With God all things are possible." Matthew 19:26)
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To: Salvation

I’m willing to try. I’ll probably chew my fingernails off though.

I’m not good at fasting but I’ve been asking Our Lady to assist me in this since I do want to grow in holiness.


11 posted on 12/14/2011 2:41:07 PM PST by surroundedbyblue (Live the message of Fatima - pray & do penance!)
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To: All
Fast and Abstinence -- Added emphasis is mine

Fast and Abstinence

Good Friday and Ash Wednesday are the major days for fasting in general for those who have reached the age 18 and are not yet 60. Abstinence means no meat on those days for those who are age 14 [or over]. General canon law says that all Fridays are days of abstinence -- no meat -- but if you want to eat meat, you should substitute some other form of penance.

The US rules for abstinence from meat includes all Fridays during Lent; Fast (small meals, no snacks) + Abstinence (as in universal rules -- no meat) on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.

Since the Council, the US bishops have never specified a particular penance for the other Fridays of the year; but the universal law still applies -- therefore it is left to the individual to choose the form this penance takes. Since abstinence from meat is traditional (and pretty straightforward), many Catholics observe still this as their form of penance that is required of Catholics on all Fridays (Canon 1250). Many, however, entirely ignore the law of penance on Fridays.

The practice of "giving up something" for Lent is part of this same requirement in the penitential season of Lent, though what you have to give up is not specified.

(See also Pre-Lent and Ash Wednesday pages.)

Related Page: MESSAGE OF HIS HOLINESS, BENEDICT XVI, FOR LENT 2009, December 11, 2008


12 posted on 12/14/2011 2:41:10 PM PST by Salvation ("With God all things are possible." Matthew 19:26)
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To: Biggirl

Colors of the Liturgical Year

 Green - Ordinary Time

Violet - Advent & Lent, Mass for Life, Funerals (optional)

 Red - Passion, Holy Spirit, Martyrs, Pentecost, Confirmation

 White - Easter & Christmas, Feasts of Our Lord & non-martyrs, Funerals (opt.) (o

Rose - 3rd Sunday of Advent and 4th Sunday of Lent (optional)

 Black - Funerals (optional) Masses for the Dead and All Souls (optional)

For more detail, see What about Blue? Vestment colors from the General Instruction of the Roman Missal


13 posted on 12/14/2011 2:44:49 PM PST by Salvation ("With God all things are possible." Matthew 19:26)
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To: Psycho_Bunny

When I read articles like this I find myself thinking that I’d have a pretty tough time adjusting to life 100 or 1000 years ago but, by the same token, if you took the average person from those ages and gave them a modern job in a modern city, they’d have a nervous breakdown within a few days.

Mankind, in ages past, was able to obtain a great deal of strength from the slower pace of their existence.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

slower pace my backside. That is a myth. They big difference between now and then is people slept when it got dark and woke up when it got light...in general. Today we go to sleep 3-4 hours AFTER sundown.


14 posted on 12/14/2011 2:46:12 PM PST by mamelukesabre (.)
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To: surroundedbyblue

Do not feel bad. To be honest, I have a struggle with the practice of fasting myself. That is why I keep it for Lent only, the real season of penence. I would rather just simply pray more and do good for others.

As I said, I just do not view Advent as a season of penence, but rather a season of great joy, because the infant King is soon to come.


15 posted on 12/14/2011 2:48:01 PM PST by Biggirl ("Jesus talked to us as individuals"-Jim Vicevich/Thanks JimV!)
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To: Salvation

In church worship, yes, blue is not used, but at home, for my own use, midnight blue color candles with one warm pink for the 3rd week of Advent is used to remember the long, darkest nights of the year and many years that a people who walk in the dark before the Light of the Christ Child came walked.


16 posted on 12/14/2011 2:52:01 PM PST by Biggirl ("Jesus talked to us as individuals"-Jim Vicevich/Thanks JimV!)
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To: Salvation
Could we do it?

Ask if we could want to be holy, and to enjoy the fruits of holiness. Only some of us; only sometimes.

17 posted on 12/14/2011 2:54:51 PM PST by Romulus (The Traditional Latin Mass is the real Youth Mass)
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To: Biggirl

Advent is a season of sober preparation, looking not only to the Nativity but also to the Second Coming. The Gloria is suppressed in the Mass, and the Church reflects on her longing for the birth/return of the Redeemer. Austerity and self-examination are in order; joy can come later.


18 posted on 12/14/2011 3:00:30 PM PST by Romulus (The Traditional Latin Mass is the real Youth Mass)
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To: mamelukesabre

Tue, plus also life was much, much slower.


19 posted on 12/14/2011 3:00:30 PM PST by Biggirl ("Jesus talked to us as individuals"-Jim Vicevich/Thanks JimV!)
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To: Biggirl

I take medication that MUST be taken with food (not aspirin) so I’m not able to fast anymore the way I used to. I miss it, very glad to read this article.


20 posted on 12/14/2011 3:04:21 PM PST by Judith Anne (For rhe sake of His sorrowful passion, have mercy on us, and on the whole world.)
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To: Romulus

I look at Christ’s coming three ways, at Advent, we remember his first coming as a baby, we look forward to with great hope at his third return at the end of the age, and the real second coming, each day of our lives when he reveals his great love and mercy for us.


21 posted on 12/14/2011 3:04:41 PM PST by Biggirl ("Jesus talked to us as individuals"-Jim Vicevich/Thanks JimV!)
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To: Salvation

Oh, I could do it. I could control my hunger and forgo food from midnight the night before until mass was concluded and I could get home. And I would lose consciousness from low blood sugar sometime around 9 a.m. Been there and done that.


22 posted on 12/14/2011 3:05:39 PM PST by ottbmare (off-the-track Thoroughbred mare)
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To: Salvation

Yes, my family do not eat meat on Fridays, not just Lent and Advent but all year. We do the two meal fast on Christmas Eve and Ash Wednesday.


23 posted on 12/14/2011 3:15:18 PM PST by kalee (The offenses we give, we write in the dust; Those we take, we engrave in marble. J Huett 1658)
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To: Salvation

Of course we can do it. Eastern Orthodoxy still fasts in both Advent and Great Lent. Yes, I have to do protein shakes to regulate my blood sugar while fasting.


24 posted on 12/14/2011 3:19:34 PM PST by firebasecody (Orthodoxy, proclaiming the Truth since AD 33)
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To: Biggirl

no it wasn’t


25 posted on 12/14/2011 3:27:10 PM PST by mamelukesabre (.)
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To: Biggirl
That's nice, but what I've described to you is the way the Church thinks, not some fanciful notion of my own invention.
26 posted on 12/14/2011 3:31:13 PM PST by Romulus (The Traditional Latin Mass is the real Youth Mass)
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To: mamelukesabre

Myth? Name one thing the average person from, say - 300 years ago - would do on a almost daily basis that required the complete situational awareness, constant number of decisions and sheer stress as a one hour commute.

And that’s just the start of the day.


27 posted on 12/14/2011 3:49:34 PM PST by Psycho_Bunny ("Fair share" are the last two words I hear before I stop taking someone seriously.)
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To: Romulus

I have no doubt that it is the Church’s position, and I have no problem with, BUT what I say is a personal reflection.


28 posted on 12/14/2011 4:22:23 PM PST by Biggirl ("Jesus talked to us as individuals"-Jim Vicevich/Thanks JimV!)
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To: Salvation
Fasting and/or abstinence:
I find that NOT BEING ALLOWED to eat/drink when I want is too hard. I find it MUCH EASIER to go to Mass every day, say a rosary every day, walk in the wind, rain and cold, shovel snow in a blizzard, walk on nails....almost ANYTHING besides deprive my poor widdle tummy of anything at anytime. If my tummy cries out with the MEREST whimper of food please I HAVE to answer it. Pathetic, but true.
29 posted on 12/14/2011 5:03:32 PM PST by cloudmountain
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To: Psycho_Bunny

You are a spoiled brat. You have no idea how easy you have it.


30 posted on 12/14/2011 7:47:10 PM PST by mamelukesabre (.)
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To: Romulus

Much better question!


31 posted on 12/14/2011 8:55:28 PM PST by Salvation ("With God all things are possible." Matthew 19:26)
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To: ottbmare; Judith Anne; firebasecody

There are medical reasons, and I’m sure God understands that.


32 posted on 12/14/2011 8:58:05 PM PST by Salvation ("With God all things are possible." Matthew 19:26)
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To: Psycho_Bunny
Name one thing the average person from, say - 300 years ago - would do on a almost daily basis that required the complete situational awareness, constant number of decisions and sheer stress as a one hour commute.

You should try operating the looms in an old New England woolen mill. A foreman stands behind you urging you and your co-workers to ever greater speed while you try to avoid losing a limb in the machine.


33 posted on 12/14/2011 10:06:19 PM PST by Straight Vermonter (Posting from deep behind the Maple Curtain)
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To: Salvation

I’m sure He does, too. I just miss fasting, it was an exercise that did me good.


34 posted on 12/14/2011 10:43:07 PM PST by Judith Anne (For rhe sake of His sorrowful passion, have mercy on us, and on the whole world.)
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To: Judith Anne

Maybe I was questioning the whys of doing fasting during Advent, when this Advent 2011, the penence/fasting was dealing with a tooth that has died on me, with all the pain and abcese that goes with it, plus dealing with being fearful of dentists because of past bad experinces and having seen a new dentist who is helping me ease back in getting the dental medical help I need. This new dentist was very good yesterday.

Now that what took place is behind me, I can be able to focus on really getting ready for the Lord’s coming.


35 posted on 12/15/2011 4:27:51 AM PST by Biggirl ("Jesus talked to us as individuals"-Jim Vicevich/Thanks JimV!)
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To: Biggirl

God bless you FRiend, with a wonderfilled Advent.


36 posted on 12/15/2011 4:37:16 AM PST by Judith Anne (For rhe sake of His sorrowful passion, have mercy on us, and on the whole world.)
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To: Judith Anne

Thank-you!

May this Advent be blessed for you too! :)=^..^=


37 posted on 12/15/2011 4:41:51 AM PST by Biggirl ("Jesus talked to us as individuals"-Jim Vicevich/Thanks JimV!)
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To: Salvation

Excellent post. I’ve never heard of fasting and abstaining during Advent. To me, it’s counterintuitive and so even after hearing about it for the first time this year, I’m not fasting or abstaining BUT I’m adding Christ-centered things in. I’m so busy anymore hence why I’m not FR as much. My time is so premium but I became a volunteer because God does give the time back.


38 posted on 12/15/2011 11:08:28 AM PST by cyborg (All grannies, All the time.)
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To: All

Prayer and fasting is crucial to our faith as JESUS always prayed and fasted. As HE mentions the power of it here:

MATTHEW 17:14-21
17:14 And when they were come to the multitude, there came to him a certain man, kneeling down to him, and saying,

17:15 Lord, have mercy on my son: for he is lunatick, and sore vexed: for ofttimes he falleth into the fire, and oft into the water.

17:16 And I brought him to thy disciples, and they could not cure him.

17:17 Then Jesus answered and said, O faithless and perverse generation, how long shall I be with you? how long shall I suffer you? bring him hither to me.

17:18 And Jesus rebuked the devil; and he departed out of him: and the child was cured from that very hour.

17:19 Then came the disciples to Jesus apart, and said, Why could not we cast him out?

17:20 And Jesus said unto them, Because of your unbelief: for verily I say unto you, If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible unto you.

17:21 Howbeit this kind goeth not out but by prayer and fasting.

Imagine to cast out demons and our sins ( the mountain), we need to pray and fast. It brings discipline and makes one very spiritually in tune. Very powerful.

Something GOD has me do quite often throughout each year. It makes us very powerful, loving, and aware.

PRAISE JESUS!

Jesus4life


39 posted on 01/07/2012 2:09:01 AM PST by jesus4life
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